Ways of Developing Audiation Skills in Music Classes

2011Symposium_1_2Audiation is hearing and comprehending music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. Audiation occurs when we anticipate what will come next while listening to music, anticipate what music we are reading will sound like while performing from notation, think of what we will play next when playing “by ear,” improvising, composing or notating music. There are several classroom activities that music teachers can do with their students to have them practice audiating. Today, I’d like to share a few.

  1. Sing the first phrase of a song, and have individual students sing the next phrase. This requires the student to anticipate what comes next based on what he or she has just heard; to think of what comes next before singing it. This is the basic action of audiation, and what separates audiation from imitation. With audiation, the person is imagining the music out of his or her own thought, whereas with imitation, the person is copying what was heard without first imagining it. That which is being imitated takes the place of audiation. When a student continues a melody started by someone else rather than repeating what has just been heard, the possibility of imitating is removed.
  2. Name a song a student knows and have him or her start singing it. This is similar to the previous activity, except that now the student does not have the benefit of using the beginning of the phrase as a cue for what comes next. Having the student begin the song from only the title leaves the responsibility of imagining all of the music involved to the student. The only cue is the non-musical song title.
  3. Have students leave out designated words of the song, coming back in after the omitted word. Feirerabend uses “My Hat It Has Three Corners” for this. After the children know the song, one additional word is omitted each time the song is sung. The omitted word is replaced with a movement. “My” is replaced with pointing to oneself, “hat” with pointing to one’s head, “three” with holding up three fingers, “corners” by pointing to one’s elbow. When the students have worked up to omitting all of these words, most of the song is “sung” silently while doing the motions.
  4. Play two or three notes on the piano, and have children name as many songs as they can that start with those notes. For example, play do, mi, so. The children might name “Frere Jacques” or “Have You Ever Seen A Sailor” or “Pierrot.” In the act of thinking of songs that begin with the given sequence of pitches, the student is heavily engaged in audiation. The student not only audiates a single phrase that he or she will sing, but audiates all possible songs they can think of that begin with a common tonal pattern. The beauty of activities like this is to the student, it just seems like a fun game, but the music teacher knows that while the students are having fun, they are building their audiation skills.
  5. Have children respond to a musical question with an improvised answer within a given meter and tonality. This activity moves from performing and performing readiness to that of creating musical work. The student is now audiating original musical ideas instead of recalling previously learned ones. Previously learned ideas are the foundation of improvisation, but there is originality involved in improvisation that is not in play during recall.
  6. Sing short tonal patterns and have individual students repeat them after a brief pause between you and them.
  7. Sing rhythm patterns and have individual students repeat them.
  8. Have children sing a song alone. Singing alone leaves all of the audiation to the singer, and avoids the possibility of imitation. When students sing with others, they may imitate what they hear others doing, and are then not practicing audiation.
  9. Have children compose variations on a given theme. The ways in which the variations resemble the theme is evidence of auditaion. Writing variations involves manipulating the mental representation of the theme that the student has made, audiating all the while the theme and the changes made to it, in a constant comparison.
  10. Listen to classical music. If the music is familiar, this will enable students to anticipate what will happen, thereby audiating. It is also possible to audiate what will happen in unfamiliar music, based on what has happened in similar works that are familiar. In this case, students are using stylistic or cultural norms to audiate.

In each of these ten classroom activities, students must form a musical thought—hear music in their head that is not physically present—and then do something with it. They sing, convert to movement, associate with another musical work, find recurrences of the same thought in multiple musical works, generate a new thought that continues a previous one, reproduce the thought from hearing it, or manipulate and change but not replace the musical idea. These are activities many music teachers do often, but not always with audiation in mind. Students go beyond “naming that tune” which is recall, and think of several melodies that have the same beginning, which requires them to think of many melodies and test each one out for a match. When a student attempts to sing a song, but cannot continue to the end, another student continues it, and then the original student repeats what the second child provided. With the interval of time in between, the first child must audiate what the second child sang. This takes good questioning and discussion practices out of language and into the realm of music. Students who are asked to repeat a musical phrase but at a different dynamic are audiating dynamics to do so. Students who are asked to sing a song in a different meter are audiating meter in order to do so. Although more advanced, this last activity encompasses a creative aspect of audiation, much as improvising and composing variations. The point is to have the student imagine as many musical ideas as possible, and to have him or her manipulate them both in the imagination, performing a sort of musical spatial reasoning, and aurally in actions of performance and creating.

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